Friday, 29 June 2012

Majority in Britain want Bishops out of House of Lords

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56 per cent of Britons want the Bishops
out of the House of Lords
As I reported on Tuesday, the Coalition government, in putting forward plans for an 80 per cent elected House of Lords in its Reform Bill, has proposed that 12 places will be reserved for Church of England bishops.

Considering the government's determination to keep the Lords Spiritual in the House, you might think that the general public share the view that Britain should remain the only state other than Iran to reserve places for clerics in its legislature. But, as a new YouGov poll [PDF] on House of Lords reform shows, this is clearly not the case.

Asked whether they "think a reformed House of Lords should or should not retain seats for the bishops", 56 per cent of respondents said that it should not, with 26 per cent saying the Bishops should stay and 19 per cent expressing no opinion. Even when broken down by political affiliation, the results still show majorities in favour of removing the Lords Spiritual –62 per cent of Liberal Democrat voters and 53 per cent of Labour voters want them out, as do 52 per cent of Conservatives.

So with those figures in mind, will the Coalition now rethink its commitment to retaining the Church of England's unelected Parliamentary seats? I wouldn't hold your breath for that, but the British Religion in Numbers Blog does raise the intriguing possibility of MPs tabling an amendment that would see the Bishops removed during the bill's passage through parliament. Could that happen? You can't rule it out, so perhaps the battle of the Bishops isn't over just yet –  keep following the British Humanist Association's Holy Redundant campaign for the latest news on the issue.

Update, 29 June, 1.40pm: A comment left below by "ColonelFazackerley" is worth including here, as it provides an insight into the government's thinking on this issue. He wrote to his Conservative MP Nicola Blackwood, and here's what she had to say about the Bishops:
"I appreciate the concerns raised about unelected Bishops in the House of Lords. Of course, the relationship between Church of England and the state is  an important part of the constitutional framework that has evolved over centuries in the  UK. The Government considers that, in a mainly elected House of Lords, it is right to maintain their presence, which is felt to provide an important extra dimension to the legislative process.

While I also appreciate the view that other faiths could be represented in the Lords, I know that the Bishops there see their role as speaking for those of  all faiths. Religious belief has an important role in many people's lives and I  believe it is important that this should be recognised and reflected in  the House of Lords' considerations."
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